D.C. restaurant vets Jackie Greenbaum and Gordon Banks (Little Coco’s, El Chucho, Bar Charley, Quarry House Tavern) unveil a modern American restaurant at Gaithersburg’s Rio Lakefront Mall on Sunday, May 14 (9811 Washingtonian Boulevard, Gaithersburg, Maryland).
Billed as a grown-up Bar Charley, Charley Prime Foods’ broadened menu combines its love for steaks and homemade pastas (a la Little Coco’s). The carbs corner showcases spicy rigatoni with marinara and Calabrian chiles and a squid ink tagliatelle dotted with Hawaiian shrimp and spicy ‘nduja crumbles. Little Coco’s customers in Petworth will recognize its elbow-noodle riff on cacio e pepe and goat cheese ravioli that switches its ingredients with the season.
Longtime chef and partner Adam Harvey leads the kitchen with Little Coco’s chef de cuisine Russell Pike. Opening hours are 5 p.m. to midnight daily, with brunch debuting the following weekend at 10 a.m. and lunch coming in June.
The original pre-pandemic plan was to bring an El Chucho to Gaithersburg, but the team quickly realized the market for Mexican food was already crowded (Rio itself is home to Guapo’s Cantina & Grill and Don Julio’s). Once they settled on the Charley Prime idea, it still took Greenbaum some convincing to do their first restaurant outside of the Beltway.
“I am a D.C. girl,” Greenbaum tells Eater. “It’s a different dining experience I’m not used to. But the more I dug into it, the more I liked it.”
Located a 35-minute drive from D.C. in the former Tara Thai space, the redesigned restaurant outfitted with a black-and-white checkered flooring and slick green booths can fit 90 inside and another 100 across its pretty waterfront patio. “I could tell pretty quickly there’s a built-in volume of people and residents who come to Rio as their downtown, not just for shopping but dining on the lakefront,” she says.
That includes Harvey himself, who’s a Montgomery County native and conveniently lives nearby the new project with his family.
“The Charley Prime menu is much larger than any of our locations,” he says. “It’s the best hits of what we’ve done over the years and things I really love to eat.” That includes a classic fish and chips and French onion soup. Other homey comfort foods include garlic cheesy bread made in-house and a roasted lamb French dip with harissa aioli, onions, Swiss, and side of fries.
“Ridiculously sumptuous and well-priced steaks” make up the core of the menu, says Greenbaum, pointing to an 8-ounce bavette cut for $27. The steak section also carves out room for bigger splurges like American and Japanese A5 wagyu and heritage prime Angus beef from the family-run Midwestern purveyor Meats by Linz.
“It’s handpicked from the Chicago stockyards. No one here really has their beef,” says Harvey, adding Baltimore-based Atlas is the only local restaurant group one he knows of.
Banks and beverage director Paul Hofford pull from the popular cocktail catalog at their pint-sized Bar Charley in Dupont and supersizes the program for suburbia with a whopping 40-plus drinks, which includes over a dozen on tap. D.C.’s top sellers like a “Quack-quack-erac” (duck fat-washed St. Germain, rye, aged rum, bourbon, and bitters) make their way to Gaithersburg, as do various versions of Old Fashioneds and mules.
Classics include a “Charley Manhattan” with high rye bourbon, carpona antica and aromatic bitters and an updated “Rum and Cola” made with Hofford’s own rum blend, cola syrup, amaro, and bubbles. Cocktails on tap at the 14-seat bar include the “Always Passionably Late” — a remixed margarita with passion fruit, black lime, salt, and silver tequila — and a nitro negroni that employs Ford’s gin, Campari, vermouth, and nitrogen. Its sizable patio is “made for summer drinking,” says Greenbaum, and a pergola is en route to provide shade.
“It’s a transportive environment to be here on the lakefront and boardwalk. I didn’t expect it to be so lovely,” she says.